Deal is a Deal
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24 Articles on SSQQ Policy
Information Guests & Watching Rudeness No Children Change Partners Crowds/Receipts
Business Policies Questions Dance Widow Same Sex Volunteers Refund Overview
House Rules Private Lessons Group Privates Electronic Trnsctns Deal is a Deal Changes
Refund Wedding Lessons Group Discount Exceptions Exception Overview Tuition Switch
Refund Struggle Refund Defeat Refund Arguments Double Charges Switching Classes New to SSQQ


A Deal is a Deal
Written by Rick Archer, May 2005
Updated in January 2006


2006 Overview on this Article.

2005 was the toughest year of my adult life.  14 months ago my Number Two employee suddenly quit.

That left me, Marla (my new wife of one month), and my Head Registrar scrambling to pick up the pieces. The sudden strain on all three of us was enormous.

Two months later - one year ago as I write today - the added pressure of scrambling to pick up the pieces got to my new Number Two most important employee, the Head Registrar, also suddenly quit.  Later in 2005 I lost two more extremely valuable employees as well. 

Marla and I kept picking up more responsibilities as they came available because for the short run we had no other choice.  Nevertheless one misery after another came to visit me as well as my wife Marla in 2005. 

One of the biggest contributors to my stress was a constant daily struggle to deal with one customer after another who wanted to change the Deal after the Fact.  The complaints and problems seemed endless! 

For the previous twenty years, I had hired other people to handle the day-to-day administrative duties. But now with the sudden defections, Marla had enough on her plate already. I couldn't risk her breaking down too (which as it turned it out, she nearly did), so this role became mine.

I wrote this article basically for four reasons:

First, I wanted to understand why I was literally going NUTS dealing with all the email complaints.

Second, I had to get a better handle on where to draw the line so that we were fair to our customers and to ourselves at the same time. This is a lot trickier than you might imagine.

Third, I wrote this article in self-defense. In May 2005 I met the strongest challenge to the SSQQ Refund Policy in my career when two MBA students demanded a Refund. As a way of sorting out my thoughts, I included their story as a "Case Study" in this article. This battle royal became so intense I eventually wrote an entire story about this incident alone.

Finally, I used writing this article as a way to get a clear idea which of our policies was still fair and which of our policies needed to be changed. Writing this article proved to be very helpful in that regard.

To my knowledge, only one person has actually ever read this article and that was because I asked her to.  However, even though I assume my story here has been largely disregarded, writing "A Deal is a Deal" was still a valuable move for me indeed. 

For example, as I reviewed it today 7 months further down the road, I realize half a dozen major changes in SSQQ Policy in 2005 came about based on decisions made as I wrote this lengthy article.

On a personal note, it is also a testimony to the importance of "weathering a storm".  You always have to keep fighting.

RA, January 2006


MAY 2005 - SO WHY AM I SO MISERABLE?
Written by Rick Archer

In January 2005, my Head Registrar quit unexpectedly. I was forced to take over her duties. Over the next five months, quite frankly I was appalled at how ineffective our ancient rules and policies were at handling the sheer volume of email. Our studio policies had become so complex, contradictory, and outdated that students were forced to email for practically every problem to get clarification or to simply find the web page that answered their question.  In addition I was astonished at the constant rudeness and whining in the emails. But nothing prepared me for the sheer volume of people who expected to get money back after they changed their minds. 

SSQQ has been doing a thriving business for 30 years. Even though we are successful, I did not been smile as much as I used to because Year 2005 was notable for one series of Refund and Policy Arguments after another.

Perhaps because the studio has grown so big, it lacks the personal touch it once had and people don't become quite as connected to the place as when it was smaller.

And perhaps email makes it easier to complain than arguing on the phone. In particular lately I have been getting a lot of complaints about "Refunds".

REFUND

For some reason I have never been able to develop a skin thick enough that will tune out the Refund complaints. I get so aggravated over them! Some complaints are valid; I will be the first to admit that.  We move quickly to handle the reasonable complaints. For example, this week one of our cruise customer's credit card was charged $13,000 for his trip instead of $1,300.  It wasn't our fault - the cruise line did it - but we still handled that problem as fast as we could!
 

I hate to argue about Refund money, so I developed three strategies

I will argue if I have to, but I would much prefer not to argue at all. Even if I "win" the argument, I hate the bad feelings on both sides and I hate investing my free time in a fight not of my choosing.

All battles have a cost.

Therefore over the years I have developed three strategies to try to avoid any arguments.

  • First, I make the ssqq rules regarding refunds clear from the start.
  • Second, I give people an hour to take their dance class to help them make up their minds.
  • Third, I give people their money back without rancor or hesitation if they change their minds during what we call the "Grace Period".

ONE HOUR GRACE PERIOD

We happen to think our dance classes are fun and effective, but we openly acknowledge it is impossible to structure our classes so that we please everyone.

Therefore during the first week of each dance semester we give our customers a one-hour "Grace Period" to see whether they like their class enough to be willing to continue. This allows the students to actually take the class they have signed up for and evaluate whether it is right for them. Please note this offer is the same regardless of whether you sign up through On-Line, Leisure Learning, or Walk-in Registration.

ONE HOUR IS PLENTY OF TIME FOR THE MAJORITY OF OUR STUDENTS

-----Original Message-----
From: C A - Houston, TX
Sent: Monday, November 01, 2004 9:58 AM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Private Lessons

I have tried your group lessons and did not feel comfortable dancing with strange women, nor did I like my wife dancing with someone else, so we left after the first hour and got our money back.

We want lessons so that WE can dance together, not with others. We didn't learn a thing from your group lesson and did not enjoy it at all so we have not been back for 2 years.

Can you give us Private lessons for the 2 step, waltz, country whip etc. - when and how much and how long are the lessons.

As I have said repeatedly, we give people their money back without fuss or feathers when they play by the stated rules. Group Lessons are not for everyone as the gentleman above clearly indicates.

If a customer decides they are not happy with their dance class, they can cancel the deal right on the spot. We pay a Registration person specifically to wait till the end of Break so she can give a refund to any customer that asks for one. We generally get at least one or two people a night who indeed ask for their money back, but not many do.

If someone does indeed ask, we give the money back without anger, argument, or attitude. You have my word on that.


THERE HAS TO BE A TIME LIMIT TO OUR GENEROSITY

We begin to have a problem when people stay in their class past the one-hour "Grace Period", then expect us to bend our rules for them after the fact.

Once the second hour of class begins, your registration is legal and binding. Please note if you signed up On-line or via LLU and there is a parallel class, this policy applies to the first meeting of the first parallel class.

We give you ONE HOUR to change your mind.

After that hour, we will continue to deliver the service we promised every day of every week - we show up on time to teach the dance class you signed up for. Our consistency is excellent - we have been keeping our end of bargain without fail for 28 years.

Unfortunately, many of our customers have to find out the hard way that we expect you to keep your end of the bargain as well!

When you give us your money, we expect you to show respect for our rules. We give you an hour to decide whether you can accept those rules or not. Once the Grace Period has ended, we have the legitimate right to assume you will respect our rules.

And if you change your mind for whatever reason, then that's your right. Just don't waste your time telling us about it because we intend to stick to the rules.  As they say, a Deal is a Deal.


SERVICE

Here are three quotations regarding "Service".

  1. Someone once said the measure of a great business is the service it gives to the particular needs of each individual customer.
  2. Customer service notice - Helen Waite is now in charge of all rush orders. If you are in a hurry, just go to Helen Waite.
  3. "I can't be servile. I give service. There is a difference." - Delores Dante, waitress.


How the American Business World Handles Refunds - The Dead Battery Story

As a reference point, did you know that many American Companies are very reluctant to give Refunds?  In Refund Overview I discussed how Keystone Ski Resort laughed at my refund request.

Now here is a more recent example with Baker-Jackson Nissan.

The emails tell the story.

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2005 11:34 AM
To: Randy Gray
Subject: battery failure

Randy,
I am the guy who pinned the car key to your door with duct tape a week ago. As you may remember, my vehicle blew an air filter on the freeway and had to be towed to your business. Since it was a Sunday and you were not open, I parked my car nearby.

As part of the repair, you said I needed a new battery.

Last night (four days since I picked my car up) my car would not start. The engine would not turn over. I was stuck in a Starbucks parking lot and had to walk to work from there. I had my wife and daughter in the car and someone had to come get them.

Then I had to make a special trip after work with a friend to jump start the car. I took it to a corner service station.

They said the battery had a bad cell in it. I immediately told them to replace it because I was certain the battery was bad. I could not take the chance of getting stuck like that again.

This was not an isolated incident. From the moment I picked up the car from your dealership four days ago, the horn didn't sound right, the beep when I locked the car didn't sound right, and the car was ALWAYS very slow to start. Something was fishy from the get-go, but since the car did start I ignored it.

I will spare you a description of the number of headaches this problem caused me last night because I realize problems like this occur.

However I think it would be fair if you would reimburse me the cost of the battery since at your suggestion we replaced the old one just last week.

I will be happy to fax you a copy of the new bill, but I am reluctant to make a special trip to the other side of town for a problem that was not mine of the making. I hope you understand.

Rick Archer



-----Original Message-----
From: Randy Gray [mailto:rgray@baker-jackson.com]
Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2005 1:41 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: battery failure

Mr. Archer,
All work we do comes with a 12 mo.\12,000 mile warranty as long as we charge a diagnosis fee. You did pay diagnosis as part of the repair. We will be glad to re-check all the work we performed and re-diagnose at no charge to you. Do you have the Nissan battery?  Randy Gray


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2005 2:00 PM
To: Randy Gray
Subject: RE: battery failure

I never doubted the warranty would be good. However I am very reluctant to make a special trip - your venue is a 30 minute drive. To make matters more complicated I am taking my car to have that fender damage repaired tomorrow.

I indeed have the battery. And I can hang onto it till the next time I am in the area.

What if I fax the $120 bill from Montalbano Tire and you just mail me a check? You could call them if you really believed there was something fishy. They too performed a diagnosis (which is listed on the bill). It said the battery had a bad cell.

The car has worked perfectly since the switch was made. The horn honks again, the key beep beeps again, and the engine turns over FAST as opposed to sluggishly. It was obviously the right thing to do.

Surely you would see that it is highly unlikely I would be pulling a stunt.  You have met me and know I appear to be reasonable.

Is there an easy solution?     Rick Archer


 -----Original Message-----
From: Randy Gray [mailto:rgray@baker-jackson.com]
Sent: Thursday, May 19, 2005 3:17 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: battery failure

Rick,

I spoke with my service manager regarding your situation. He instructed me to inform you that this particular situation seems to be fully related to the battery; which falls under our parts warranty department.

He said that as long as you bring the battery we installed and a receipt showing where you replaced it due to a bad cell, we will be able to reimburse you for the cost of the battery but not for the labor. This is a part, as long as it was defective, that we would have replaced for you at no charge.

He also informed me that it is important to return in a timely fashion. Within a week. Thank you,
Randy Gray


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer [mailto:dance@ssqq.com]
Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2005 11:33 AM
To: Randy Gray
Subject: RE: battery failure

It won't happen within a week, but I will drop it off the next time I am in the area.
 

Baker-Nissan is on the South Loop. I live in the Heights.  It would require a special trip in the middle of the day to take this battery to them.  As I add this experience to the list on June 8, 2005, it has been three weeks since the incident. 

First, did you note how "important" it is to them that I HURRY over to their business to take care of a problem caused by their defective battery?  You know and I know based on this email they are setting me up for a reason to deny me the Refund using some arbitrary time limit.

Second, did you see an apology for a massive inconvenience caused by them?

Third, they won't even reimburse me for their labor which amounted to $40.  Furthermore they replaced a battery that HAD BEEN WORKING. Mr. Gray told me over the phone that my original battery was defective. I trusted them.  What else do you do in this situation? 

Now just how "customer friendly" are these guys?   Not particularly.  This is a multi-million dollar business and here they are jacking around a man who bought a $30,000 car from them over a problem they caused themselves. 

Four months later I did have a chance to take the battery back on a Saturday in August.  A gentleman named David Hernandez met me at the customer service counter. He said the manager had left for the day and he wasn't authorized to give refunds even though I showed him the battery I had been carrying around in my trunk for four months and showed him the original receipt. 

So I left the battery and Mr. Hernandez promised me I would receive a phone call from the manager on Monday. I'm still waiting.

Even more humiliating, about two weeks later I discovered before I handed the battery to Mr. Hernandez, that the battery had one more laugh at my expense. Unbeknownst to me, it had fallen over in the trunk and dumped battery acid that was absorbed invisibly into the carpet. I discovered the problem when three shirts I had bought at Sams had holes all over them. 

Didn't a light bulb go on in anyone's head that I am probably getting ready to buy my next vehicle?
How smart are these people?   You decide.

SO WHAT IS SSQQ's SERVICE IQ LIKE RE OUR CUSTOMERS?

SSQQ Dance Studio was started in 1977. SSQQ is a "Service Business".  We stay in business based on our ability to make our customers happy.

Based on my 2005 experiences, making our customers happy is has grown a lot harder than to accomplish than it used to.  I reached a point where I thought we were being taken advantage of by a number of our customers. This is an issue I will deal with later in the article.

As we approach our 30th year in business, I would have to say one of the biggest problems facing our business is the ever-increasing tendency on the part of our customers to push the envelope when it comes to "customer service". Most requests are reasonable, but each year the number of situations that cross the line increase.

First let's take a look at some of the simple day-to-day examples of the problems we face.


Situation One - Blind Men Take Dance Classes


In 2004 we had two men taking group Salsa classes who were just short of being totally blind. These two men would have been helpless without extra help on our part. Our instructors showered both men with a great deal of extra attention. In fact we practically had to assign one teacher to help them exclusively because they could not see what the instructor was doing!  However you have to admire their courage. It wasn't easy for them, but both men patiently repeated the class from month to month and seemed to be improving.

This is a side to our organization that I am proud of.

However I knew if either man decided to move up to Intermediate, I would have to say "no". We could not allow these men to slow down the pace of a more difficult class. It would be practically the same thing as allowing someone in a wheel chair to take the class. What's the point?

Fortunately they never tried. One day I noticed they were not there any more. Since I don't teach Salsa, I wasn't aware of the inside story on why they left, but I hope they have good memories of us. They certainly have my respect.

This example illustrates clearly the give-and-take between meeting the needs of the unique customer and meeting the needs of our other customers as well. We can't jeopardize the entire group for the needs of these two men. We will bend a little, but we has to be a limit.
 

Situation Two - Dance History Not in Computer

Here is another story. In April 2005 a man showed up to take Martian Whip 4. He was relatively new to the studio this year, a fact I am certain of because I had never seen this man in the class before and I have been teaching it for many years. He told the Registrar he was repeating the class and wanted to take the class for half-price. A quick glance at his computerized history showed no such record. In my opinion there is no doubt he was wrong. He left in a huff after the Registrar stood her ground.

Interestingly, a few minutes later another man decided not to sign up for the exact same class for the same reason. He also told the Registrar he had taken this class before. This gentleman had a legitimate problem. He had taken many Martian classes, but could not remember which ones (there are 12!).

According the computer, it turned out this particular level was not one of them. In a sense, he had a "missing baseball card." He stuck to his guns and said he remembered he had taken it. We said our records did not confirm this. He frowned and said, "Okay, I think I will just wait till next month since I will have to miss at least one class anyway." So he turned around and left. Like his predecessor, it was worth taking at half-price but not at full price. The difference was he did not leave angry.

In my opinion, both men had a complete right to decide not to take the class. If the price wasn't right, that is how business works. The only thing I resented was the attitude of one man in particular who gave the Registrar a very difficult time. Before it was "Business", but now he has made it "Personal".

Furthermore it isn't just about the money. It is Respect.

One man wasn't happy about the price, but left gracefully. The other left in anger. He expects us to treat him with respect but he doesn't realize is that we expect him to show us respect in return. No matter how low on the organization totem pole an employee may be, there is no reason to be disrespectful to anyone who is doing the job they are paid for. Clearly the Registrar didn't tell the man the wrong information. He was just angry that she wouldn't cut him a deal because he expected her to take his word for it and believe him. In other words, he tried to bully his way in.

The meanest thing a customer can do is abuse an employee who has been told to follow a certain rule. What is the value of this kind of meanness? The employee is helpless to fight back for fear of losing her job. In my book, that makes the customer a bully.

As I said earlier, we give Service, but we will not be Servile.

2006 Update: Another Half-Price Incident: The $23 Argument

In 2006, someone pulled a similar move like the angry man above. He showed up to register for a class he took back in 1995. He expected the Registrar, who just happened to be my wife, to give him his half price discount.  She asked him where his email confirmation was from me authorizing her to extend a half price discount.

He said he didn't have one and didn't know the policy had been changed.

Marla replied that we had discontinued the Half Price option for students taking classes from 2001 back.  He got very angry and challenged her repeatedly.  Then he fibbed about something "Linda" had told him. Marla stuck to her guns. He got angry and stomped out, leaving her near tears with frustration because she had taken a lot of abuse from him.

EMAIL ONE
-----Original Message-----
From: LD
Sent: Sunday, January 08, 2006 8:18 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Repeat

Rick, I was told that I had to email you. I took about 6 different courses form SSQQ back in 95 & 96 with my boss. A bunch of us from Houston Cellular took lessons.

I talked to Linda last week and was not made aware of that I had to email you or I would have done it then. I came tonight and that is when they said I was not in the computer. It only went back to about 2001. I wanted to retake some of my previous lessons to get back on track. Can I retake them at the half price now.

LD
 

EMAIL TWO (MY REPLY)
-----Original Message-----
From: LD
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2006 9:46 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: Repeat


You were unbelievably aggressive with my wife last night, all over a lousy $23 half-price. I deeply resent people who try to bully their way past people who are only doing what I myself told them to do. Instead you stood there and berated my wife with taunts ("You're his WIFE, aren't you?") and repeatedly told her that Linda had promised you a half-price class.

I just got off the phone with Linda to ask for her side of the story. It turns out Linda knows the rules quite well. "People who are not in the computer have to email Rick Archer in advance for permission to take a class for half-price."

You are a bully and you are not welcome here.


EMAIL THREE
-----Original Message-----
From: LD
Sent:
Mon 01/09/2006 10:53 AM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Repeat

Mr. Archer
Is trying to get into a class for what was promised years ago. I did not want to miss the bigining nite. Twenty Three dollars might be nothing to you but I have been out of a job for a long time now. I however did not tell your wife that Linda had promissed me the $23 dollars. I said that Linda did ot tell me that I had to email you. I had told Linda that I had taked courses years ago and did not know which class to start with. Linda said to get with her and she would see what I knew and then would let me know what class to start with.

All I was trying to do is get what was promissed me 10 years ago. Having been married before, my wife had as much to say about what we did as I did. Equality. That is all I ment by that statement. I just assumed that she could do what ever you could. I was not trying to scold her. All I wanted was to be alble to take a lesson.

How would you feel, if when, you drive all the way from the other side of town to do something you only had the money for and you get there and they tell you it will cost you double to get in. If I had known that all I had to do was email you I would have and none of this would have happened.


EMAIL FOUR (MY SECOND REPLY)
-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2006 10:53 AM
To: LD
Subject: complaint of the month Repeat

Mr. LD,

You were verbally abusive to a woman in a service role who was not in a position to respond in kind to your anger. Although you did not use profanity or raise your voice, you were clearly angry with someone who could not speak back to you the customer in the same manner you treated her. You insisted that since Marla was my wife, she should be able to break the rules for anyone she wished. Marla got angry with you at that point, but rather than fight back, she simply said, "I am an SSQQ employee" which meant she was doing her job. She then said, "Rick makes the rules and I follow them."

On a personal note, you made her angry. You challenged her to break the rules because you knew she wasn't going to get fired if I found out about it. You pinned her to the wall with that taunt.

You then said, "Well, I drove all the way across town because Linda said over the phone I could get in for half-price." Per my phone conversation with Linda this morning, it is likely you are not telling the truth. When Marla replied that Linda does not have the authority to grant people half-price discounts, you got even angrier that she would stand her ground to you. In a nutshell, you pushed someone around who was helpless to respond to you.

Your parting words as you left in a huff were "I'm going to say bad things about SSQQ to all my friends."

Maybe SSQQ is not always as friendly as it used to be, but it is the treatment we receive from people like you that explains why we are forced to make rules in the first place and stick to them.

As for your half-price allegation, it is not a "right", it is a policy. The half-price policy for previous students was discontinued recently. I based this decision on another incident last month with customer who also was not in the computer who showed up and requested half-price without having my email permission. The student was certainly nowhere near as hostile as you were, but she was clearly frustrated.

It was this incident (which I elaborated upon in a recent Newsletter) that led us to discontinue the pre-2000 discounts in the first place.

DECEMBER 2005 NEWSLETTER

The title of the story is: WHAT ABOUT DISCOUNTS FOR PEOPLE WHO TOOK CLASSES BEFORE 2001

If you indeed spoke to Ms. Cook as you said you did, she would have explained that a simple email would have gotten you in the door for half-price. In my upcoming Newsletter, I will print the emails of three other people to show that I indeed give the discount whenever asked in a courteous way.

I repeat, you are not welcome here.


EMAIL FIVE
-----Original Message-----
From: LD
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2006 11:45 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: Repeat

I wish I had been pointed to that article or told about it or was able to see it in you web site in the first place. Rick I do ot lie. I just was not informed about the new rules when I talked to Linda. It just did not come up. I did not ask about the half price because I thought it was a policy. I came for a little while a few years ago and just told them I had taken the course before and they charged me half price. I was not aware of the new rules. It was not Linda's fault and I do not think it was mine either.
I was frustrated for that I am sorry. I wish you could see it from my point of view. I did not raise my voice, all I wanted to do is take a dance lesson. Now you do not even want me there at all.
Perhaps there is another way that you can let people know of the new rules before they get to the class expecting something and getting something else. It seems there has been others put out by this new rule. I do understand why you would make the new rule (having to be in the computer) I for one wish I had known about it before I got there.

Rick, you have the right to keep me out, I wish you would not. Again, please look at it from my point of view. I have looked at it from yours.
LD


EMAIL SIX  (MY THIRD REPLY)
-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2006 2:59 PM
To: LD
Subject: RE: Repeat

Mr. LD,

After showing your email to Marla, she said she does not mind if you take a class at SSQQ this month.

You are correct when you state that it isn't fair to expect the whole world to know of our policy change. I appreciate that you have made me aware of my shortsightedness.

As my way of mending fences, there will be no charge to take the class this month. I will send you permission another email in just a second.


EMAIL SEVEN  (MY FOURTH REPLY)
-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2006 3:01 PM
To: LD
Subject: Permission to take January 2006 class at SSQQ at no charge

Registrar, please issue Mr. LD a receipt for whichever class he desires to take. There will be no charge.

Mr. LD, please print this out and bring it with you to show the Registrar.


This story illustrates four different issues.

1. People lie and try to bully their way into class ALL THE TIME. Over the past year, this constant rudeness has embittered us to the point where we felt "angry and not willing to take it anymore".  
2. I won't tolerate having my Hall Monitors and Registrars abused for simply doing their job.
3. Standing up to people who cross the line feels a lot better than that "Customer is always right" attitude.
4. I made a big mistake not giving an Amnesty Period. This policy switch should have been given six months to sink in.  I feel ashamed of myself for my part of creating the situation which started the fight in the first place. If you noticed, I apologized. Then I turned around and told Marla she had permission to ease up.

This business of balancing what is fair to the customer and what is fair to the business is very tricky stuff. 



Situation Three - Refund Struggle

2005 was notable for the toughest Refund Struggle in the history of the studio. A woman who was the Assistant Director of a prestigious Houston-area MBA program demanded.  We went head to head for several months.

One day she came at me with both guns blazing.  Reeling from the strength of her attack, I started to write about her story in this section RIGHT HERE.  I published her emails and my counter-arguments as a way to sort through my own position.

As I re-read all her emails listed one after the other, I shook my head at the absurdity of some of the statements.

HER WORDS: "I was conveniently uninformed that I must seek a refund prior to the first class until after the first class was over."

MY REPLY: That is a new one. Your reasoning baffles me. How do you expect us to warn you of our refund policy before we know you wish to ask for a refund??  The policy is posted on the Internet loud and clear. I don't know what else to do to protect you from our predatory business practices.

HER WORDS: We have paid for a service that we have not
received nor plan on receivingI would recommend that you refund the money.

I never replied to that statement, but if I had, this is what I would have said:

MY REPLY: How are we supposed to provide a service when you don't even show up?  Did you expect us to make a home visit and teach you in the living room?

I thought to myself, "How does a woman who teaches people how to run their business make arguments like this with a straight face?" 

That's when I had an idea. Why not actually ask her that very question?  So I wrote her back:
 
MY REPLY: How you would handle YOUR PROBLEM if you were in MY SHOES??

It turned out to be a much longer story.  When I fleshed out the story and gave it more details, I decided to move it from this page and give it a page of its own.
MBA Refund Struggle


Situation Four - For Some People, The Rules Work

-----Original Message-----
From: PC
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 10:07 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Private lessons instead of group lessons

To whom it may concern,

My wife and I have signed up for your group lesson for beginning salsa classes starting this Thursday June 09 through June 30th. The purpose is for us to learn how to dance with each other and being in the group lesson, this prohibits us from doing so as we later read in detail. We would like to take private lessons but we have already paid for the group lessons.

Let us know when we could take private lessons and what we can do to refund or transfer the paid amounts towards private lessons. We look forward to your reply.


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer [mailto:dance@ssqq.com]
Sent: Wednesday, June 08, 2005 6:32 AM
To: PC
Subject: RE: Private lessons instead of group lessons

Group lesson money cannot be shifted to private lessons.
tuition switch


Since your class has not started yet, you should have no trouble getting a refund.

You can go to the studio and get a refund on Wednesday or Thursday evening around 7 pm.

Then contact Linda Cook for your lessons.
 

Situation Five - Electronic Transactions (in brief)

NOTE: The long version about double charges, electronic transaction, and problems with the ssqq online registration system can be found at Electronic Transactions

  1. Electronic Refunds
  2. On-Line Registration is Stupid
  3. The Courtney Walsh Incident

From: RG
Sent: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 11:20 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Wed class

Hi Rick,  I'm sorry but I need to cancel the class I signed up for last week. It's the Night Club 2 step. I missed the first class and was going to start tomorrow. I will not be able to attend any due to an unexpected circumstances.

I don't have the email confirmation so I hope you can find me in your records and find me.

Please let me know when you have credited my Master Card.   Best, R

The customer above has absolutely no idea how hard it would be to grant her wish.

Our customers do not understand is that the On-Line Registration System does not allow us a simple way to cancel an "electronic registration".

Indeed canceling an electronic registration is a deeply time-consuming problem. It is also very easy to make mistakes!

If there was a simple way to cancel an Electronic Registration, (i.e. Online Registration), I would use it. But there isn't! 

And believe me when I say that as on January 2006 I have looked. I invite a reader to come to the studio and show me an easy way. If it's out there, I am willing to learn.  But until that person steps forward, you will just have to take my word for it.

Therefore people who register on the Internet have to play by the EXACT SAME RULES as people who use walk-in Registration... "You have till the end of Break on your first night of class to get a Refund".

  1. "I was out of town and couldn't make it back in time to cancel my on-line registration."

    It is common for businesses to expect their customers to come to the premises to receive their Refund. For example, in the Dead Battery story earlier in this article, I was expected to make a highly inconvenient drive across town to REMEDY A PROBLEM THAT WAS THEIR FAULT.

    At SSQQ we expect you to come to our business to REMEDY A PROBLEM THAT IS YOUR FAULT.
     
  2. "Why should On-Line Registrations be subject to the same rules as Walk-In?"

    Any parent knows the dangers of treating one child with one set of rules and the other child with a different set. Last night we had over 200 people taking Salsa classes. At Break Time, 2 people came out and asked for a Refund because they thought it was too crowded. We gave their money to them on the spot without any arguing or meanness. They got their money back and departed without rancor. 

    When it comes to On-Line Registration, the simple solution is "Don't Register Till You Make Up Your Mind".  Most of our students register the day of the class. How difficult is that??

    Then if something goes wrong, we will give you credit. But no Refund.  
     
  3. "I signed up On-Line in the convenience of my home. Why should I have to drive to the studio if I change my mind to get my money back?

    It is extraordinarily tricky to find an Electronic Credit Card Transaction on the Internet. A hacker might be able to do it, but not me. 

    If you are willing to accept a credit for your change of mind, you don't have to do a thing!

    However if you want your money back we WILL give it to you if you come and get it on the day or or before your class starts.

    I have already said it before, but giving out Electronic Refunds is very difficult. I have tried and found it confusing and time-consuming. If it was a two-minute simple click of a button, then I would be more understanding.

    But if it means taking 30 minutes out my day for me to solve a problem using the Internet that you caused by changing your mind or letting you make a 30-minute drive to the studio to solve the problem you caused in the first place, which box do you think I am going to check? 

    And don't suggest I charge a service fee.  My lawyer charges me $200 an hour. Why shouldn't I charge my customers the same fee?

    You would end up owing SSQQ money at the speed I work on the Internet. Instead you can come to the studio and get all your money back with no service charge.
     

Situation Six - People Change Their Minds

Here is another story. I have lots of stories. SSQQ organizes two cruise trips a year. Organizing these trips is a great deal of work. One of the biggest headaches are the dozens of requests for changes made by people who have already signed up the cruise.

Did you know the Birds and the Bees have a way of driving any cruise coordinator nuts?

Single people have love lives that change not only on a daily basis, but sometimes even on an hourly basis. Since a cruise typically needs to be booked months in advance, people's love lives change as time passes. Each time there is love-life change, we get a phone call or an email requesting a change. Nor is it unusual to get another phone call or email a day later asking that things be changed back.

One woman dropped off the trip altogether when her romance with a man signed up for the trip soured. She didn't want to be anywhere near him.

Another woman signed up under an assumed name hoping that an old flame would not notice she was going until it was too late to join. (2006 Update: Apparently the woman had a reason to use stealth. The "ex-flame" turned out to be a very jealous "ex-husband".  The ex-husband signed up for the trip at the last moment and proceeded to make life miserable for the boyfriend and former wife. Still, they got the last laugh. They announced their engagement on the last night of the trip. It was awkward indeed.)

Another woman signed up for two different cabins with two different men. Now isn't that clever?  She assumed she would have to drop one at Crunch Time and sure enough that's exactly what she did. (2006 update: She made a good choice though - the one she kept is still with her six months later.)

This year's trip saw a very odd coincidence. Two people who had booked separate cabins decided they wanted to room together after their day-to-day romance escalated to a higher level. This was a big headache because it meant we had to scramble to find two new roommates!  After all, now we had two people of opposite sexes who suddenly didn't have their original roommate due to the improvement in their former roommates' romantic status. Just when we were tearing our hair out our wondering where we would find two more people to take the trip at the last minute, the problem was magically solved. Out of the blue another couple that had originally signed up to room together decided their relationship had not progressed to the point where they should be sharing a cabin. But they still wanted to go. So they called and asked to be split up. Things worked out okay, but for a couple days, we weren't sure what we were going to do since there was no one on the Wait List.

All the changes discussed above (and quite a few that were not mentioned) were important to the individuals, but each change meant more headaches because their decisions affected other people besides themselves.  

It is pretty clear that future cruises in 2006 will have to carry a "change your mind" penalty because there has to be a way to limit all these headaches.  There are just so many hours in the day. Yes, people deserve the right to change their minds, but if it requires extra work to solve the problem, then it is time to spend a dime to change your mind. Or maybe more.  

One cruise incident completely crossed the line. Recently we received an email from someone who wanted to go on the cruise but said they were handicapped. The email listed the particular handicap and the problems it presented for someone taking on a cruise - mostly mobility problems. The email concluded with this statement: "Please send a detailed outline of the services you can provide to meet my particular needs as a member of your group."

Email increasingly is coming into question as a less than effective means of communication than it once seemed. Any email that asks a lot of questions and requires a lot of details becomes a huge demand on someone's time. Who wants to spend their whole day typing away trying to answer vague questions? There are just so many hours in the day. Perhaps if these questions had been asked on the phone, the person would not have seemed so demanding. But the tone of the email clearly rubbed me the wrong way.

It is true that some people will go overboard trying to help, but anyone who analyzes that statement fails to realize that some people who go overboard also drown.  
Bill Cosby was once quoted as saying, I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.Again we try to help, but there has to be a LIMIT!


You do not have the right to take up my Time without my permission!

One time I got off the plane in Denver. The rental cars were located out on the prairie well over a mile away from the main terminal. The car rental person warned me that one of the shuttle buses to my rental car wasn't working and that only one bus was currently in service. This meant there might be a wait of up to an hour if by chance I barely missed the bus.

I had a long drive ahead to get to a ski resort. I was in a bit of a hurry to get there while it was still light so it would be easier to find my condo and rent my skis ahead of time. The man suggested I take a cab.

The moment I got in the cab, the driver asked me where to. I told him about the shuttle problem. He said the short trip would cost $10. I complained. He turned around and pointed to twenty taxis in a line behind him. He said the cost in time of having to go to the back of the line wasn't worth the $3 minimum fare to the shuttle place.

I laughed when I saw his point. I countered with an offer of $6 just to play the game. He countered with $8 and that was the final price. Time is Money.

Here is an old joke about attorneys.

A man walked into a lawyer's office and inquired about the lawyer's rates.
"$60.00 for three questions", replied the lawyer.
"Isn't that awfully steep?" asked the man.
"Yes," the lawyer replied, "and while you pay me, what is your third question?"

Recently I had an experience where I was forced to use a lawyer to defend my 50-50 custody rights in regards to my daughter. As you likely have guessed, my ex-wife was suing me.  To say I was livid about the entire process is a mild understatement. 

But the point here involves the lawyer. 
One day very early in the process I received a bill for $400. I was stunned. My attorney and I had not even met to sit down and discuss the case!

It seems I was being billed $200 an hour in return for the service of talking on the phone and reading emails. I had been using this particular attorney for 20 years and had never been billed in this manner before. Furthermore I had never been charged this rate before either. This was a new and highly unpleasant development.

I was especially angry at being billed in this manner because it came without the courtesy of a preliminary explanation (or more to the point, a warning - had I known of the change, I would not have forwarded any emails).

Unfortunately it seemed like bad judgment to change horses in the middle of such an important battle, so I accepted my attorney's unexpected move and begrudging paid the rate. The stakes were too high to take a chance, but that didn't mean I felt like I was treated fairly.

My bitterness at the thought of paying someone $200 an hour to read emails got me to thinking...

Did you know I spend two hours a day reading and answering ssqq email for free?

Just imagine! I could be making $400 a day just reading all the complaints that get sent to me! That sure would improve my attitude about the complaints, now wouldn't it?

If it was a complaint I didn't like, I could just read it slower!  Even better, I would encourage people to complain more!  Best of all, I could charge them for adding their emails to articles just like this one!

Now we're talking!


I no longer enjoy reading email because half my time is spent deleting spam and the other half of the time I spend reading email that is highly unpleasant. Instead of getting the chance to enjoy my free time off from work during the day, I get slammed on a daily basis with all kinds of emails that give me headaches.

This email is a good example. I get emails like this on a daily basis!

-----Original Message-----
From: S
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 11:52 AM
To: Dance@ssqq.com
Subject: switching salsa classes

Hi my name is XX. I am presently taking Int Salsa III.

The reason I am emailing you is because I need to change classes. I see that you guys offer Int Salsa I which is what I needed (had beginning salsa last month). The reason I registered for the Int Salsa III was because I was not aware of what the last day was for my other class. I went on April 30th thinking that it was the last class but in reality it was the first class for the Month of May. I did not want to come for nothing so I registered for the class that I have presently and I asked one of the ladies if I could change to the Tuesday or Thursday class they told me to go ahead and email you.

Basically what I am asking is to be dropped from INT Salsa III and be put in what is left of INT Salsa I. I would really appreciate it. If possible can you email me before tomorrow I wanted to attend tomorrow's class. Thank you once again!



MY REPLY:

Ms. X, I don't think this is a very good idea for three reasons.

One, we don't allow people to start classes in the third week. The movie is already half-over so to speak.

Two, you are supposed to ask to switch a class IMMEDIATELY, not two weeks down the road.

Three, there is nothing wrong with the class you signed up for. When people ask to switch, it is because they have signed up for the wrong class.


-----Original Message-----
From: S
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 4:01 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: switching salsa classes


I understand what you say.

I have not attended my last class either. I have only been there once.

I was not able to email you because I do not have internet access.

I know that there is nothing wrong with the class. It's great but I won't be able to attend those days. I would be able to attend only on tuesday or if not on thursday. I enrolled for the sat. class but i was supposed to email you asap but I did not. I am a college student who takes 12 hours this month has been very hectic for me especially with finals.

So if you can change me that would be great.
but if it is not possible I will accept that

thank you for your time. S

I am glad to note that Customer S thanked me for my time. But what if I had CHARGED HER FOR MY TIME?  Or better yet, acted just like the Lawyer and charged her for my time without warning her first?  

Would she be as pleasant? 

Let's pretend I charged her a fee for reading emails.
I realize that dance teachers are not nearly as important as lawyers, but for the sake of argument let's also pretend dance teachers are important. 

This woman is writing me because she has changed her mind about something. Now she wishes for me to invest my own time in solving her problem.

At $200 an hour, I would estimate I spent $50 reading and replying to the two emails above. But what if I also billed my students for the time I spent "thinking" about the questions?  Sometimes I am so baffled as to what to say I have to just sit there at the keyboard and analyze what is the right thing to say or do.

After all, deep down inside I do enjoy making my customers happy. But not if it is at too great an expense or investment of time!  I literally sit there and wrestle with my conscience.  Do I bend?  Do I stick to my guns?  There is never a right answer. Each situation is just different enough to call for a reevaluation of my position.

As for Ms. X above,
I am certain I put in 10 minutes of "thought" deciding what was fair in this situation. That would have added at least another $30 to the bill. And did I mention I looked up her class history on the Internet and checked her story? That took 7 minutes because the cable was slow… but that's not my fault, is it?  After all, I had to wait and time is money! That's another $20 right there.  $50 + $30 + $20 = $100!

How do you suppose this person would feel if I sent her a bill for $100?  After all, her tuition only amounted to $38 to begin with, but nowhere did it specify my email time was free, now did it?   After all, if my lawyer can change the rules without warning, why can't I?

Although I ended up spending an hour of my time on this curious situation, I told her "No" for free.  However when you realize I get two or three of these kind of emails a day, you begin to see why increasingly I dread opening my email box.

 

MORE ABOUT WHY I HATE EMAIL

Do you remember where I wrote that most of the time that I spend reading email is highly unpleasant?

Not only does it take up an enormous amount of time to read them all, Email allows people to be extremely rude and impersonal. 

Before 1873 when the typewriter was invented, hand-written letters took care of long distant communication. The typewriter speeded up the rate of communication because typing letters was faster than writing them by hand, but an even bigger invention was just around the corner. Just three years later in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell introduced the telephone as well. That really improved communication!  And all of us thought answering machines were the cat's meow back in the 1970s.

But only 20 years later, in the mid 1990s w
hen the Internet and Email were added to our communication tools, they was widely hailed as an invention that would greatly enhance our lives.

I definitely thought Email was the most wonderful thing in the world. When email first came along, I fell in love with it immediately. I had always hated answering machines, but typing emails seemed so much easier than leaving a phone message!

Since then I have come to rethink my earlier impressions. The problem with emails is that they are endless!

Spams, Scams, Viruses, Jokes, Political Messages, Junk, Carbon Copies, plus even simple "thank you" replies all add up to an amazing number that grows and grows and grows. Oh my gosh when does it end??


Many of You, Few of Me

And the problem is that I am outnumbered! SSQQ has 1200 students a month. What if half of them have questions or problems?  There is only one of me. I respond to the email as fast as I can, but it is turning into a daily marathon.

Once upon a time, I emailed Jeff Weigand, the hero of the true story told in the movie "The Insider" (Russell Crowe, Al Pacino).  Dr. Weigand's brave decision to testify about the shadowy practices of the tobacco industry is widely hailed as the breakthrough that brought this evil industry to its knees. I wrote him a very long letter thanking him and telling him how much I admired his courage (the man lost practically everything in the process - his job, his wife, his kids, his home, his retirement, tons of money, his reputation, and had his life threatened continually).

His reply to me?  "Thank you. I had lots of help". 

I smiled at the short answer.  Many of me, few of him. I understood. Yes, indeed, if anyone understood, that would be me.

Here is another email situation to ponder.

-----Original Message-----
From: SM
Sent: Friday, March 18, 2005 11:58 AM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Refund question

Hello, My fiancée and I signed up for dance lessons back in January, but once we got to the first class we realized that we didn't sign up for exactly what we expected and that the lessons might be a little to early before our wedding reception to do us much good. We talked with the woman at the front desk before class began and she said that we could schedule another class instead, using the credit that we had from the class that we decided not to take.

Our wedding is now in two weeks, and with all of the things we've had to take care of we've been unable to take a class. Can we receive a refund for the amount of the class?

Thank you, SM


MY REPLY:
-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Friday, March 18, 2005 5:21 PM
To: S M
Subject: RE: Refund question

There is a "Slow Dance and Romance" class that begins Monday, March 28.

It is EXACTLY the class you need. You will get two lessons in before your wedding, which should be sufficient, especially if you stay after class and practice.

You are welcome to take this class at no charge if you print this out and bring it with you on the first night.


-----Original Message-----
From: SM
Sent: Friday, March 18, 2005 5:24 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Refund question

Unfortunately the wedding is April 2nd. Just let me know if the refund is not an option.

Thanks


MY REPLY:
-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Friday, March 18, 2005 7:46 PM
To: SM
Subject: Refund question

The refund is not an option. Sorry.

However I will be happy to meet with you this Monday at 6 pm to train you for your wedding dance. There would be no charge. Just bring your song.


Continuing the theme of charging for emails, let's
add up the cost of these four Refund emails. They are pretty short, aren't they??  I will say it took me 15 minutes to read them, think about them, and type my replies. $50.

You clearly must be getting sick of my avariceBut wait!  Did you notice I offered to come work with them for free?  Look above!  It says, "There would be no charge."

I offered to come to work an hour early because it looked like they needed some help.  Guess what? They didn't want my help. They just wanted the refund.

  • It didn't matter that they could have asked for a Refund on their first night of class.
  • It didn't matter that they received correct advice that they could switch to another class at a later date.
  • It didn't matter that I offered them another class for free.
  • And it obviously didn't matter that I sincerely tried to help them. Even though they didn't reply to me, I showed up early that next Monday just in case I had missed their return email. 

None of this mattered. They didn't show up for their free lesson. They just wanted their refund.


ONE HOUR JUST DOESN'T SEEM TO BE ENOUGH TIME FOR SOME PEOPLE…

-----Original Message-----
From: Nehal Porecha
Sent: Tuesday, May 10, 2005 5:06 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Regarding Salsa Lessons! Pls read!!

Dear Mr. Archer,

My name is Nehal Porecha. My fiancé Shakeel Ahmed and I signed up for the beginner's Salsa lessons scheduled every Saturday 4:30- 6:30 pm class starting from April 30th - May 21st. Unfortunately, we were not able to continue after the first class and I would like to explain the reason.

We went for our first class on April 30th. We signed up at the reception desk for what we thought were 'couple' salsa lessons and not group salsa lessons. Our impression about the structure of the class was that everyone would get to learn and practice the dance steps as a couple with their respective partners and not have to rotate from person to person. Learning something completely new is difficult in the first place and having to adjust to the style of dancing of the other people in the class while rotating made it even more challenging. It was very uncomfortable for the both of us. So towards the end of our first class, me and my fiancé started dancing with each other instead of rotating to familiarize ourselves and help each other learn the steps. We also told the instructor that we chose to dance with each other and he agreed to it. And that is the reason why we did not ask for a refund immediately after our first class.

Our second class was on May 7th and again we started dancing with each other, but this time the instructor came to us and practically forced us to rotate. We told him that we did not want to and he informed us that if we did not rotate then we had to leave the class and ask for a refund. Which we did and were told to write to you and explain the situation and to obtain a personal e-mail from you oking the refund.

I am writing to request a refund of $63.50 for the three classes that we will not attend. The credit can be applied back to my credit card. Instead, we are interested in taking private Salsa lessons at SSQQ with a private instructor. Could you please suggest one so that we can sign up?

Please contact me either via e-mail or via phone as soon as possible. I would really appreciate your attention in this matter.

Thank you for your time.

Regards, Nehal Porecha

This was the Email that served as the straw that broke the camel's back.

It aggravated me so much I decided I had to collect my thoughts before responding in anger.
I spent eight days thinking about it. Finally I decided it was just too complicated to answer without putting my ideas down on paper first. I had been upset with the "Refund Problem" for some time and it was this email that made me decide it was time to say something.

Let me add it is a good thing I didn't reply!  If I were charging to respond to this email, this couple would have racked up at least a $400 bill just for the hours I spent thinking about it!

Let's go over their email again.

1. They had the opportunity to get their money back right on the spot.

They complained that they thought it was a "couples class" and found out it was a group class. Although I am sorry they were disappointed, we gave them an entire hour to make this discovery and get their money back without penalty. The first hour was spent switching partners. What made them think we were going to make an exception for them?

2. They said the instructor permitted them to dance with each other in the second hour and this was why they didn't ask for their money back.

It wouldn't have done them any good. The Registrar picked up and left after Break. An hour should be sufficient for anyone to make up their mind.

3. They complained in the second week they tried to dance exclusively with each other, but the instructor forced them to stop.

Our rules clearly indicate we expect each student to change partners. The rules are posted on four walls. They are even printed on the receipts. It is true that when it comes to couples that don't want to switch our instructors occasionally look the other way the same way a cop overlooks a speeding ticket. We know that some people feel uncomfortable and try to give them a little leeway. But there is a limit. At some point they need to start "switching" or leave the room. The instructor did exactly the right thing where they were concerned.

4. And they wrapped things up by demanding to switch group class tuition to private lesson tuition.

Switching Group Class Tuition to Private Lesson Tuition is not permitted here at the studio. No one really knows "why", but you might be surprised to know I have a lot of energy on this issue. In the Article "Excessive Whining" I explain the reasons why, but for now let's just say that in my opinion the email above disregarded four different rules.


The Philosophy of Refunds at SSQQ

Over the years I have spent a lot of time reviewing in my mind the nature of Refunds. SSQQ is not Foleys or Radio Shack. You can't return a "service". People can't exactly bring back their Foxtrot lesson and say it was defective because it didn't work at their wedding. Instead they just ask for their money back.

The fact of the matter is that dance lessons are readily expendable if something more interesting or pressing comes along. A new romance, a new job, a move to another city, the car breaks down, the flu hits, a friend visits from out of town, the Astros start winning and the next game is "must see"… let's face it, the list is endless!  There are a million reasons people could list as to why they lost interest in their dance lessons.

Let's be realistic. Dance lessons are not like root canals. You can't escape pain forever, but dance lessons can be easily put aside when other things become more important.

Meanwhile I have bills to pay. You don't run a business without capital.

Where would that leave us if everyone expected their money back the moment they lost interest in dancing when something more important came along?

I suppose if I went very deep into Christian Consciousness or the Buddhistic Circle of Life concept, perhaps it is true that all good deeds return back. Unfortunately it would take the same kind of guts that a pacifist might use with a terrorist to make this sort of leap of faith.  Unfortunately lately too many unarmed Aid workers have been murdered in cold blood in Iraq for my taste.

I guess I don't believe everyone out there is an honest, decent person.

I apologize, but my common sense tells me it is easier to stay in business if I abide by commonly accepted American capitalist business principles - "State your rules of business, be honest, treat people fairly, be consistent in your decisions and stick to your guns."  

So be it.

The Army certainly doesn't let its enlistees leave every time they change their mind. And I know full well from two personal experiences that Cruises are notorious for hanging on to your money when things go wrong.  And I have battery acid in my trunk to remind me of Baker-Jackson Nissan's generous refund policy.

What sense does it make to
allow our business to lose money every time someone changes their mind?   After all, people change their minds all the time!

So what are you going to reply? 

Are you going to fall back on the famous axiom "The customer is always right"?   Are you going to quote some economics principle that the cost of finding a new customer is more expensive than making exceptions to keep the current one satisfied?  Are you going to be spiritual and say that the good will generated is worth the sacrifice?

In this case, I decided to stick to my guns.


After all, our policy gave Ms. Porechal and her fiancé in the example above over an hour to decide whether the class was what they wanted or not. We didn't play any tricks on them. They soon discovered the second hour, third hour, and fourth hour of class were conducted in the same way as the first hour.

At our studio what you see in the first hour is what you get for all eight hours - same teacher, same curriculum, same rules, and same classmates. We don't put on a "nice" act for 60 minutes and turn into ogres after that. If anything the instructor tried to give them space only to be criticized for how he handled their problem.

We essentially give our customers the chance to get a free one-hour try-it-and-see-if-you-like-it dance lesson. If they choose to ask for a refund at the end of the hour, that decision is okay with us. We are grateful they at least gave us a try and we hope they come back someday. We treat them with respect and maybe they will say something nice about us to their friends.

However once the hour is over, we now have our own expectations!  As far as we are concerned, everyone has had time to make up the mind.  Our students have officially signed up for the entire ride and there is no turning back.

During the four-week cycle of classes, we hope they have a good time. But even if they don't, we still expect them to please keep the complaining down. They made their decision, now live in peace with it.


People are still going to ask for the Refund anyway!

By now it is should be obvious to our readers by now that just because we think a "Deal is a Deal" doesn't mean all of our customers agree with us.

The person who wrote the next email asked for a Refund three months after their class was over. Not only did they phone the studio during the day to discuss the matter, but carefully read our Refund Policy on the web site before making their email pitch as well.

Previously I wrote the Refund Policy and the Refund Overview story that explains our reasons behind the Policy in extraordinary detail. If you were to print these documents out on paper, you would generate close to twenty pages! And if you were to print this story out, it would be well over twenty-five pages long.

Here is the Big Question: If someone were to take the time and read Rick Archer's FORTY FIVE PAGES of explanation behind the SSQQ Refund Policy, would that stop them from asking for a Refund anyway?

Let's find out!

-----Original Message-----
From: SS
Sent: Monday, May 09, 2005 11:03 AM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Refund Question

Dear Mr. Archer:
I have read your refund policies on-line but am unsure about what the options are regarding my situation.

My husband and I signed up for a Swing class in February. We attended the first class. That week was the week that the flu and flu-like illnesses hit Houston. My family fell victim and we were unable to attend any of the other classes. I called SSQQ and was informed that we would be able to retake the class at a later date for a $5/person fee. Since then, my husband's back has gone out. He suffers from chronic back problems and pain that when they flare up cause him to have to be very careful with all physical activity from sitting to lifting. Sometimes it takes a while for him to be able to function normally again. In this case, he has not recovered as quickly as he has in the past and dancing is definitely out.

I talked to a very nice woman this morning who said that we have the ability to retake the class until the end of the year, but honestly, I don't know how long recovery from this latest episode will take and I'm concerned that dancing could trigger a relapse. She suggested that I email you. Is it possible in this situation to get a refund minus the cost of the first class? We paid at the studio using a credit card.

Thank you, in advance, for considering this unfortunate situation.
Regards, SS



MY REPLY
-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, May 09, 2005 3:12 PM
To: SS
Subject: RE: Refund Question


I am sympathetic to your situation, but our position is that a refund is not in order.

When you are ready, you may retake the class at no charge. Bring this email with you as indication I have waived any charges.

Rick Archer

Ms. SS, the lady who wrote the email, is more than likely a very educated woman.  Not only did she express herself very well, her "rice.edu" email address hinted at a University background. I am quite sure she clearly understood everything I said in my three articles, but she still asked for a Refund.

That answers the question. No matter how many places I stick our Rules and no matter how much I write, people will disregard them and ask for Refunds. After all, there is no negative consequence to asking. "It never hurts to ask."

Wrong. It hurts me. I'm the one who has to go through this same process over and over again.  Many of you, few of me. People change their mind and now I am expected to feel sorry for them.

Unlike some of the emails we get, I don't honestly think Ms. SS thought her situation had any legal standing.  Like I said, she asked anyway because "It never hurts to ask".  She simply threw herself on the mercy of the court and hoped to catch me in a good mood.

Unfortunately it gets old. How do you treat each situation as "special" when you get two or three problems a day??

After all, did you know there is currently a world-wide epidemic of the cursed Mind-Changing Virus?  Here at the studio people change their minds about classes all the time!  That is a fact.  When you have 1,200 customers a month, the laws of probability hint that at least 5% of our students are going to have things come up or have changes of heart that render the dance lessons unimportant.  That averages out to 60 problems a month which averages out to two unhappy customer emails a day.

For example they break up with a boy friend or their job suddenly takes them out of town or they twist an ankle.

My question is, why do these people believe the changes in their lives give them the right to expect their money back?

We post our rules at the studio entrance. We post our rules behind the Registration Desk. We post our rules in two restrooms. We post the Refund and Partner Switching rules on every registration receipt. We post our rules on the SSQQ Web Site.

Ms. SS, the person who wrote this letter, had already had a 15-minute conversation on the phone with one of our Registrars who told them that they were not due a Refund in this situation. But since the person refused to take "no" for an answer, they were advised to take their case to the highest level - me.

Then like any college student preparing to write a paper, Ms. SS even took the time to review what I said on the web site ("I have read your refund policies on-line but am unsure about what the options are regarding my situation"). After reading our Refund Policy, she saw the line in the sand and knew full well that our official position wasn't in her favor.

But she went ahead and asked for a Refund anyway. Like I said, the attitude was that it never hurts to ask.

But it does hurt!  I can feel myself getting less sympathetic and more closed-minded by the day!  I hate getting so hard, but when the porcupine keeps poking you with its needles daily, you have to make a choice - either bleed to death or develop a thick skin.

Her letter frustrated me a great deal. Ms. SS made it obvious I could write a Refund Policy longer than "Gone With the Wind" and it wouldn't make any difference. She would still disregard all of it and say, "Can I have a Refund?"

Ms. SS taught me a lesson I will never forget for the rest of my life.

No
matter how much I write (about nine articles so far), no matter well I say it, no matter how many examples I offer, people are still going to ask for the Refund anyway.


WHY DO STUDENTS EXPECT SSQQ TO REFUND THEIR MONEY WHEN THEY CHANGE THEIR MIND?

It has been a recurring theme throughout this article that some of our students change their minds from time to time. After 25 years of running a "Service Business", if there is one thing I have learned, it is that people change their minds.

Please don't misunderstand. I think it is okay for people to change their minds. I change my mind all the time and so does my wife Marla.

Speaking of Marla, two years ago, Marla decided she wanted to be beautiful at her wedding, so she joined a nearby Bally's Fitness Center.  She signed a three-year contract in December 2003.

Marla attended exercise classes at Bally's religiously for six months and got into terrific shape. It worked!  We were married in September 2004.  In my opinion, Marla looked terrific!

Unfortunately almost immediately after the wedding, problems showed up on our doorstep. First Marla's sales rep job almost ended when her two top lines were terminated. Her job was saved when her company restructured at the last minute and basically gave her another woman's job as well. Suddenly Marla's job was more or less "doubled" at less salary. Great. More work at less pay. But since she still had a year to go on her daughter's college tuition, Marla plugged away. 

Shortly thereafter my Number One employee at the studio suddenly quit without warning. Helping me to overcome a major emergency, Marla assumed the financial responsibilities keeping the books and doing the payroll.

Then two months later my Number Two employee at the studio quit. Marla assumed her duties handling the Registration.

Then three months later one of my top instructors quit to move to Austin. Marla assumed one of her duties teaching private lessons to people getting married.

Plus Marla continued to grow her side business as a cruise travel agent.

And the point is?  The point is that Marla currently has five jobs. She works constantly. (2006 Update: after I wrote this article, Hurricane Rita came along and made her life as the Travel Agent of record a living hell for two solid months. RITA RHAPSODY.  Then a cancer scare at the same time and forced a month of worry before she could have the surgery in November that showed she was okay after all. But she ripped her rotator cuff just days after the surgery and had to lay up for most of December.  Things were tough for BOTH of us in 2005.)

Recently I asked Marla about Bally's since she hasn't been in nearly a year. When would she find the time?  Marla smiled and said she will go back when she gets her five jobs under control. She said she has a long-term plan.  Then she added that she still pays $25 a month on her contract.

I raised my eyebrow. I didn't know this. I thought it was month-to-month like my business.  I smiled. Does this mean Marla is paying $25 a month for a "Service" she doesn't use? 

I asked her why she doesn't get her money back. After all, it wasn't her fault all these people quit their jobs at the studio. Why not go tell Bally's how things beyond her control have prevented her from working out? 

Marla smiled and said, "Just because my life changed and right now I am too busy to work out is no excuse to break my contract. I will go back someday, I promise."

(I smiled just now. As I was sitting at the computer giving this article its 2006 update, Marla just came a few minutes ago to give me a kiss before she returned to Ballys today for the first time since we got married in September 2004. She had no idea what I was doing so rest assured we didn't plan it this way.  Then I got to this part of the article and raised an eyebrow.  Now THAT is a funny coincidence.)

THE FINAL WORD

Love is Rare,
Life is Strange,
Nothing's Certain,
People Change.

In other words, things change in people's lives and people change their minds.

The problem for me is that every time something changes, they want it to become my problem too.

I disagree.

If you change your mind or something comes, we will reschedule your class if you ask us to, but we won't give your money back.

A Deal is a Deal.
Use it  or Lose it.

RA May 2005

THE FINAL WORD

After all the negativity written about in this article it might help to put things in perspective.  Here is a parting thought -  Did you know the vast majority of our customers think SSQQ is a pretty nice place?

This letter sums it pretty well.

-----Original Message-----
From: Manuel Angulo
Sent: Tuesday, August 31, 2004 1:20 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Complaints

I just read the complaints section.

I agree with you, it is impossible to satisfy all of the people all of the time. Many people in this world are looking for more or wondering why they got less.

It must be very difficult to operate a business these days.

My personal experience at SSQQ has been amazingly good. I have found a new group of friends and have enjoyed a wonderful challenging pastime. I am fortunate to have started my learning at your studio through Leisure Learning.

I have been to several other places in town and none has the open friendly attitude present at SSQQ.

I will be forever in your debt. Take care and know there is at least a one person that is very satisfied with the way that you choose to operate your studio.

Manny Angulo

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